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Schools Turn to Character Ed. to Raise Achievement, Prep for College

Character education isn't just for elementary school children. While often squeezed out at the secondary level to make room for more intense academics, schools at all levels are finding that taking the time to build character can lead to a positive school environment and better-performing students.

"To attain rigorous scores and achievement, students must have social skills and be respectful," said Karen Geller, the principal of Upper Merion Area Middle School in King of Prussia, Pa. "If students are worried about being bullied, they can't focus on academics. They need the skills to do homework, participate in class...[character education] supports that greater academic success."

Students at Upper Merion are learning about core values of caring, respect, trust, family, and responsibility through Community of Caring, one of several character education programs used by schools across the country. To be effective, educators are realizing that the concepts need to be embraced by everyone in the building and the lessons woven throughout the school day.

The values are discussed at small groups and larger forums and integrated into the curriculum. For instance, the topic of empathy may be talked about in a class meeting. An assembly might follow that expands on the theme and then students would write a reflection about it in class.

"We live it and we model it," says Geller of the program, adding that it includes some professional development and training, but was not costly. The school has been nationally recognized for its character education program and the impact it has had on the school community.

As schools consider the various approaches to character education, administrators should look for ones with evidence-based results, say experts, such as Marvin Berkowitz, the co-author, with Melinda Bier, of What Works in Character Education.

The Washington-based Character Education Partnership advocates 11 principles of effective character education and provides resources for schools weighing the merits of programs.

There is not one best program and every community should decide what fits its students' needs, writes Scott Seider, an assistant professor of education at Boston University, in his book, Character Compass: How Powerful School Culture Can Point Toward Student Success. While academics may be the foundation for success, Seider suggests schools are ramping up character education because more are realizing that students also need to have personal skills and grit to navigate life in college or on the job.

For more, see my recent article, Character Education Seen as Student Achievement Tool.

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